Several hotel management, development, and brand executives touted the progress of women and minorities within the hotel ownership ranks over the last few years, while collectively acknowledging there is still room for further progress and growth.
Speaking earlier this week at ALIS (Americas Lodging Investment Summit) on a panel discussion entitled “Forward @ ALIS: Advancing Women & Minorities In Hotel Ownership,” the panelists elaborated on some of the obstacles these groups have had to overcome.
Lisa Checchio, chief marketing officer, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, challenged many industry colleagues to look at the bigger picture.
“It’s not just about brands and management companies. It’s not just about ownership groups and lenders. It’s all of us together that moves this conversation forward and the more intentional we are the more it will happen,” she said.
Checchio referred to the formation of ForWard—an annual conference to recognize women in hospitality formed by the AHLA in 2018—and panels such as these as being significant milestones.
“Just the fact that we’ve been able to make so much progress in a short amount of time shows the appetite our industry has to make a difference, to be intentional, to work together, to move this conversation forward,” she added.
Tracy Prigmore, managing partner, TLTsolutions + She Has a Deal—the latter of which she founded in 2019 to help create pathways to hotel ownership for women—rejected the notion that women might be somewhat reluctant to seek out such opportunities.
“I actually think that the women are comfortable, it’s a matter of having the opportunity. I have been impressed by the number of women who are competent and capable, who just have not had access or have not felt like the industry was for them…So it’s really about the industry showing that they want to see more women on the ownership side of the business and embracing that and supporting it,” she explained.
Janis Cannon, SVP, upscale brands, Choice Hotels International, who described women ownership as “a little bit light in the house,” encouraged further change in the approach.
“We’ve got to build allyship and we’ve also got to change the way we think about our risk tolerance with certain types of investors or certain types of people that want to make an application for lending so they can actually move forward. That’s the reason that companies like Choice Hotels are putting programs in place like HERtels,” she noted.
Cannon further added, “we need a voice that says let’s take the risk, let’s give this a try because a hotel company believes that this is someone that really can make a difference.”
Checcio, meanwhile, emphasized that in addition to the company’s Wyndham Own The Room program, it’s critical for companies to create specific programs designed to meet the needs of all types of minorities.
“We founded these programs with intention because while women and black owners have similar barriers of entry to get into the hospitality and ownership space they are different. We wanted to ensure to not just create blanket programs. We wanted to ensure we were focused on the barriers specific to each one of these groups so we could be successful in making sure that they open their first hotels,” she noted.
Prigmore elaborated on the formation of the She Has a Deal program during the pandemic and her difficult decision to move forward with the competition in which women pitch their potential deals despite the COVID shutdown.
“It made my day watching these women go from not knowing anything about IRRs, underwriting, and market analysis to pitching real hotel deals and doing it extremely well. So what I took away from it was the talent is there. So everything I envisioned with She Has a Deal with respect to giving these women an opportunity and showing them how to do it was a reality,” she said.
Prigmore further noted that there is “real opportunity” for additional projects coming to fruition. “They’re out looking for deals and ’23 is going to be best year ever because we have several deals closing. We’re excited about the potential,” she noted.
Meanwhile, Thomas Penny, President, Donohoe Hospitality, touted the impact of hospitality students watching Leslie Hale assume the role of Chair of AHLA just prior to the event.
“That’s a big deal, grabbing the power of diversity to take the mantle as Chair Board and what better representative for our industry than a woman that has been as successful as she has. This also speaks to the progress that’s being realized at this moment, we’ve just to accelerate it,” he said.